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Tova O'Brien in parliament
Tova O’Brien reporting for Newshub (Image: Newshub)

MediaSeptember 14, 2021

No, Newshub and Tova O’Brien have not been silenced by the government

Tova O'Brien in parliament
Tova O’Brien reporting for Newshub (Image: Newshub)

Accusations are swirling on social media that Jacinda Ardern blocked a planned news report criticising the Covid response. It’s not true. Stewart Sowman-Lund reports. 

A video clip of Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien was scrubbed from the internet in response to political pressure, it has been claimed, falsely. The video has been widely shared on platforms including Twitter, Facebook and TikTok, and sent to news organisations including The Spinoff. 

In one email sent to The Spinoff, which included a screen-recorded version of the clip, the misinformation is used to argue “the power of this insidious government to shut down democratic discussion from a devious prime minister”.

In the video, O’Brien holds up “screeds of documents” relating to the government’s Covid response. She says that there has been “an acknowledgement from the prime minister that we could be in level three or two for up to two years”. And she says that Jacinda Ardern has stopped her ministers from speaking to the press. “One thing that’s not in this pile of documents is an email that was leaked to Newshub from the prime minister’s office to all of her ministers gagging them from speaking to the media,” says O’Brien.

Those sharing the clip allege, erroneously, that it was planned for broadcast on Three’s 6pm news bulletin last Friday, but was pulled after direction by Jacinda Ardern. 

The message sent to The Spinoff said it was “disturbing” that Newshub had not been able to air the clip. “The attached interview first appeared yesterday (Friday 10th Sept) but [was] removed by TV3 and not included in the evening news,” claims the emailer. 

Another message also sent to The Spinoff was addressed to political pundit Ben Thomas, who appears on the Gone by Lunchtime podcast. “Have a good look at this and focus on the real issues that are facing New Zealand, RATHER THAN THE TRIVIA THAT YOU SEEM TO LIKE COMMENTING ON,” the email read.

Among those who have made it clear that the video is being fundamentally misrepresented is National Party pollster David Farrar. He tweeted to say that “dozens” of people had sent him the clip. 

Newshub journalist Anna Bracewell-Worrall also found a similar claim running unchecked in a Facebook community group, clearly stemming from the same clip. “Rest assured, if there was a leaked Cab doc, we would be reporting it,” she said. 

One person shared the video on Facebook and said: “TV3 has obviously got this clip but not shown it to the nation.”

The report was not intended for broadcast last week. That’s because it went to air 16 months ago, in May 2020, when the government did release a large pile of Covid-related documents on a Friday afternoon and an email was sent to ministerial staff by a senior adviser to the prime minister. “There’s no real need to defend. Because the public have confidence in what has been achieved and what the Govt is doing. Instead, we can dismiss,” the memo read.

The email, which was widely and roundly condemned by the opposition and in the media, was described by a spokesperson for the prime minister as “clumsy”. 

A Google search for “Tova” plus “document dump” brings up the video and the accompanying news story, despite claims the clip had been pulled from the internet. 

One visual clue that the clip is not new is the presence of newsreader Samantha Hayes, who has been absent from Newshub’s TV news since last month on maternity leave. Mike McRoberts and Melissa Chan-Green are currently fronting the 6pm broadcast.

Sam Hayes and Tova O’Brien (Image / Newshub)

Speaking to The Spinoff, O’Brien said that “a few people” had flagged the clip with her, thinking it was recent. However, she said that “no”, the government was not silencing Newshub and nor did the government ever pre-approve broadcast content before it went to air. 

“A pandemic can be a terribly frightening time for people and it’s incredibly frustrating and concerning that people take advantage of that by sharing misinformation and disinformation,” said O’Brien. On the role of the media during the pandemic, she added: “Given the public health risks it’s critical we continue to get the facts out there – there’s not one demographic of people susceptible to conspiracy theories.”

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